Hamilton (Kirikiriroa in Māori) is an inland city in the Waikato region of New Zealand's North Island.
The Waikato River, New Zealand's longest river, flows through the middle of the city. This effectively cuts the city in half, with Hamilton West containing the Central Business District and main shopping areas. Hamilton East, among other things, is home to The University of Waikato, resulting in a large student population.
Buses can sometimes be full and sometimes empty, so it can pay to book a few days in advance. Booking in advance (particularly on the internet) can also save money - up to half the fare in some cases. In any case, travelling by bus is generally a cheap option, albeit a bit slow at times.
- InterCity has daily services from Auckland, Tauranga and Wellington to Hamilton. Fares start at $1 (+ booking fee) and all InterCity buses are equipped with free WiFi. Tickets can be purchased online, over the phone or throughout the country at numerous booking agents, including the i-SITE network.
- ManaBus.Com offer bus services to Hamilton several times a day from throughout the North Island.
- Naked Bus is a budget bus service with nation-wide routes and goes through Hamilton more than once daily.
Because New Zealand's major highway, State Highway 1 (SH1) cuts through the city, so getting to Hamilton is simple. Drive south down SH1 from Auckland. Drive northbound on SH1 from Taupo, or connect to SH1 from Rotorua or the Bay of Plenty.
Tranz Scenic offer a service from Auckland to Hamilton (departs 07:25, arrives 09:50), three days per week. The journey takes an hour and a half and isn't terribly exciting, but is much quicker than bus or car. There is also service from Wellington to Hamilton on three othe rdays each week(departs 07:25, arrives 17:00) which, provides an opportunity to take in some beautiful New Zealand scenery and the famous Raurimu Rail Spiral. See also: Train travel in New Zealand.
Hamilton Airport hosts domestic flights, with regular direct flights from:
- Auckland - beginning at $65 one way for a 30min journey
- Wellington - starting at $70 one way for a 1h journey
- Christchurch - beginning at $135 one way direct for a 1h40 journey (fares start at $70 if you stop in Wellington for half an hour)
The airport is about 10km (6 mi) out of town, so allow time for airport transfers. A taxi or shuttle bus service is available. Passengers who arrive on flights late in the evening on Fridays and Saturdays should arrange transport in advance as taxis can be scarce. Also, be aware that fog can close the airport on winter mornings.
Many visitors to Hamilton find that walking is a surprisingly effective way of getting around the main city. Hamilton is a moderately sized city, however the CBD and shopping area is easily walkable. If you are staying in or near the CBD, it is likely that you can reach everywhere you need to go within a 5-10 minute walk.
For slightly wider-ranging exploration, there are a couple places in Hamilton (e.g. Velo Espresso) where you can hire a bike. These fees tend to be slightly high (e.g. $35 for a full day), and thus aren't attractive merely as a transport option; however they can be excellent if you're looking to experience the Te Araroa trail, or the Pukete Mountain Bike Park.
Due to the reliable and cost-effective bus system, Hamilton does not have as strong a taxi fleet as Auckland does. However, there are a good number of local taxi services available, such as Hamilton Taxis (0800 477 477) or Red Cabs (07 839 39 39). During peak times (particularly Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights), you may face a wait-time of up to an hour or so.
Just as elsewhere in New Zealand, Hamilton's public transportation network offers poor quality at a high price and it has been designed by people who have never taken the bus.
Most bus lines start and terminate at the Transport Centre, so going anywhere that is outside of the city centre will involve changing buses there. Keeping in mind that most buses run every half hour or one hour, the trips take long. Most lines stop running before 8 pm (some even much earlier) and some don't run on Sundays. The most frequent and used bus line is the Orbiter, which does not pass through the city centre itself but does a loop around the suburbs. It runs clockwise and anti-clockwise and as late as 8.30-9 pm!
The timetables are hard to read. There is a trip planner on their website, but no app to show the bus movement in real time. The trip planner uses a Google Maps function. Google Maps itself has directions by public transport, but beware that the timetables there are not up to date and unless you are taking the bus from a timed stop (a stop for which the bus has an actual timetable it has to follow), you might end up being shown the time for the nearest previous such stop, which might easily result in an extra 15-minute wait. The buses are often late anyway.
Bus routes and times are available online at the Busit website, and cover the whole city. A bus ticket costs $3.30 and includes free bus transfers for one hour, allowing you to reach the transport station and then transfer to another bus to complete your journey. The same card can be used on routes outside of Hamilton to nearby towns in the Waikato - Raglan for example.
If you intend to use the bus service frequently, it may be worth investing $5 in a BusIt card, an pre-paid card that and provides discounts on fares. A single way ticket with a BusIt card costs $2.40.
Finally, a "City Explorer" pass can be purchased, which provides unlimited travel within the Hamilton City boundaries. The City Explorer pass is valid during the day of purchase, and until 3:30am on the following day. An adult City Explorer pass will cost $7.90, or $6.30 with a BusIt card.
- Hamilton Gardens are a really nice place to go and see. In addition to 'normal' gardens such as a rose garden and the Rhododendron Lawn, visitors can also go and see 'themed' gardens, such as the Chinese Scholar Garden, or the American Revolutionist Garden, among others. Entrance is free, although beware that some of the themed gardens are inaccessible after 19:30 (20:00 in the summer).
- ArtsPost, 120 Victoria St (South end of Victoria Street), +64 7 838-6928. The three exhibition spaces at ArtsPost display an exciting programme of fresh new art which changes regularly, and ArtsPost's retail shop features beautiful art pieces and great variety. New items are added regularly to a uniquely New Zealand product range.
- Lake Rotoroa ("Hamilton Lake"), off Ruakiwi Rd, is Hamilton's central lake. The lake and its surrounding grounds are the venue for many local sports groups. There is a 3.8km path around the lake for sightseeing.
- Riff Raff: near 200 Victoria St stands a statue of the iconic Riff Raff character from the cult status movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Riff Raff was gifted to the city of Hamilton to commemorate the links between the city and Richard O'Brien, creator of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
- Victoria Bridge & Memorial Park; Take a short walk over Victoria Bridge, turn left, continue to Memorial Park. Originally dedicated to soldiers after World War 1, the Cenotaph has three memorials honouring the NZ navy, air force and army.
- Taitua Arboretum, Taitua Road (From Hamilton follow SH23 west (towards Raglan / Whatawhata) and turn left into Howden Road, then left again into Taitua Road.), ☎ 0-7-847 5847. 8am - 30min before dusk. The Taitua Arboretum is a 20-hectare reserve featuring a large collection of mature trees. The grounds include lakes and woodland gardens, surrounded by an array of walking paths. The trees and lake attract a great array of bird life, and is perfect for bird watching, or even just a relaxing walk or picnic. Free. (175°12'53.6E,37°48'21.9S) edit
- Hamilton Zoo, Brymer Rd, +64 7 838-6720, is home to over 600 native New Zealand and exotic animals. Kids especially enjoy it. To get there, simply enter Hamilton from the North or South on SH1, and look for the signs, on the section of SH1 called Avalon Drive (Te Rapa area in the North). Daily 09:00-17:00, with the last admission at 15:30. $12, Children $6.
- Waikato Museum, 1 Grantham St (South end of Victoria Street), +64 7 838-6606. General Art and Culture Displays and Exhibits about New Zealand and International Cultures. Daily 10:00-16:30. Entry is free, though charges may apply for some exhibitions.
- Waikato Stadium, Gate 5 Waikato Stadium, 128 Seddon Rd, Whitiora. The home stadium of the Chiefs (Super Rugby) and the Waikato Rugby Union (ITM Cup), A place to visit if you are a fan of Rugby Union.
- Hamilton River Walk - The Waikato river passes through the middle of Hamilton, and there is opportunity to walk on both sides from the Hamilton Gardens in the south to beyond the Pukete walking bridge. Very soon the walkway will extend, on at least one side, to beyond the Horotiu bridge north of Hamilton. The walkway(s) have several signs that discuss the local history and points of interest. For example, many of the parks on the riverside were once Maori Pa. Care must be taken late Autumn when the river is high, as some parts of the walkway become impassable, although there are always alternative routes available. Walk, or ride your bicycle!
- Te Araroa - Hamilton City Traverse - The nation-wide Te Araroa walkway makes its way south from Ngaruawahia through Hamilton. The Hamilton City Traverse section of Te Araroa starts on Pukete Road (at the Northern end of Braithwaite Park), and continues for 16.5km, ending at Taitua Arboretum on Taitua Rd.
Hamilton is home to many of New Zealand's events, including:
- The Agricultural Field Days, which are hosted at Mystery Creek, bring thousands of people (125,000 in 2007) from around the world. Taking place every June, this is a must-see to have an insight to farming in New Zealand.
- The Hot Air Balloon Festival in April each year is also worth a look, especially the night glow event.
- The Hamilton Garden Arts Festival takes place every year at the end of February. Hosted in the renowned Hamilton Gardens it includes Music, Theatre, and Film.
- Centre Place Mall, Cnr of Ward and Worley Sts, . M-Th & Sa 09:00-17:00, F 09:00-20:30, Su 10:00-16:00. Located in the city centre the mall includes good cafe's, restaurants and clothing stores edit
- The Base Te Rapa, Cnr of Te Rapa Road and Avalon Drive, . M-Sa 09:00-18:00, Su 10:00-17:00, Te Awa mall open Th-F to 21:00. Located on the Northern outskirts of the city, The Base includes a mall (Te Awa) and many chain stores edit
- ArtsPost Galleries, 120 Victoria St, +64 7 838-6928, is an art gallery showcasing local work. Well worth a visit, and also offers a range of items for sale, from paintings to glass blown paperweights. Daily 10:00-16:30. Free.
- Casabella Lane is located on Barton St and contains many boutique stores, as well as many good cafes. One of Hamilton's best kept secrets.
- WestField Chartwell, Cnr. Hukanui Rd. and Comries Rd, . Located in Chartwell. The mall includes good Cafes and Resturants on the Ground as well as Level 1, Event Cinemas on Level 1, Farmers. edit
- Hamilton Farmers Market, River Road Car Park, 204 River Rd every Sunday morning 08:00-12:00. Fresh coffee, fresh bread, excellent atmosphere.
- Domaine Restaurant, 575 Victoria St.
- Iguana, 203 Victoria St, +64 7 834-2280, is a central city restaurant offering mainly pizza and salads.
- The Londoner, 596 Victoria St, +64 7 839-9941, is an English style Pub at the end of Victoria Street.
- Metropolis, 211 Victoria St, +64 7 834-2081, offers decent coffee and cafe food.
- Caffe Centrale, 10 Alma St, +64 7 838-1013, is Hamilton's only Italian owned and operated Italian Restaurant. Marco is a master of Italian cooking, and Alessandro makes their house gelato.
- Edo Japanese Restaurant, Cnr Ward, Bryce and Tristram St, Hamilton (Located in the KMart building directly opposite the transport centre. Edo is just to the right of the main Kmart store entrance.), ☎ +64 7-839 3919, . 9-5 Monday-Friday. One of Hamilton's best Japanese restaurants. Sometimes hit-and-miss (the Tuna Sashimi is frozen) but overall outstanding, and quite affordable. Mains $13-19 $$. edit
Most of Hamilton's bars, clubs, and coffee houses are located with easy walking distance of each other, in the Victoria/Hood/Alexandra Street area.
- Laroma Espresso Bar, 40a Lake Road - literally one of the very best in the country, brewed on a Spirit Triplette, often by the roaster himself.
- Hazel Hayes, Victoria Street - exceptional
- Vetro, Anglesea Street - exceptional
- Espresso Workshop, Sunshine Ave, Te Rapa - exceptional
- Scotts Epicurean, Victoria Street - exceptional
- Jack's Coffee Lounge, Cambridge Road, Hillcrest - very good
- Machina, London Street - good
- Cafe Fresca, Corner Kahikatea Drive and Allison Ave (inside the garden centre) - good
- Momento, branches on Hood Street, Victoria Street, Waikato University, and outside Waikato Hospital - good
- Coffee and Food Establishment, Hood Street - good
Bars & Pubs
The vast majority of the bars in Hamilton are owned either by the Phoenix Group, or the Lawrenson Group. All Lawrenson Group bars accept a "FrenzCard", which is a type of loyalty card. Phoenix Group bars tend to offer a similar type of discount card if you ask about it.
- The Outback Cnr Victoria & Hood Streets is your typical student bar holding promotion targeted towards students and is the main bar for the local university orientation week.
- Zone Bar is the main sport bar in the city. Located within the Skycity casino building. Includes a deck with views over the river. Also on the same floor as a Bowling alley and Laser tag activities
- Gothenburg Restaurant is Hamilton's premium craft beer location. Their stock of European beers is unequalled in Hamilton, and the service and tapas are always outstanding. Located in the ANZ Building at 17 Grantham St, CBD.
- Good George Brewing are a relatively new micro-brewery (not-so-micro now). You can find their wares on-tap throughout the Waikato, and in supermarkets across the country. Their beers are all good, but tend to be somewhat pedestrian. Sometimes they come out with a short-run signature brew which is always outstanding (such as the Salted Caramel Chocolate Porter, or their current Dark Chocolate Rocky Road). Their ciders are particularly outstanding. Located at 32A Somerset Street, Frankton.
- Eagle's Nest Backpackers, 937 Victoria St, ☎ +64 7 838 2704, . On the north end of Victoria St, approx 10min walk from the bars. edit
Bed & Breakfast
- City Centre Hamilton Bed and Breakfast, 3 Anglesea St, Central, ☎ +64 7 838 1671, . A studio cottage sleeping up to three people and includes a kitchenette, bathroom, off-street parking, free Internet access. Five minutes walk from central Hamilton. edit
- Shailers Bed & Breakfast, 1447 Kakaramea Rd, ☎ +64 7 825 2729, . Luxury homestay / farmstay twelve minutes drive from Hamilton. Tours of their four-hundred cow dairy farm. edit
- Novotel Hamilton, 7 Alma St, ☎ +64 7 838 1366, . The city's largest hotel, and only 4.5 star rate hotel. Located next to Hamilton's only casino, right in the centre of town. edit
- Ibis Tainui, 18 Alma St, ☎ +64 7 859 9200, . Located on the riverbank, with many rooms including a view of the city's majestic river. edit
- Ventura Inn & Suites Hamilton, 23 Clarence St, ☎ +64 7 838 0110, . Located at the south end of the central business district, this hotel offers 50 guest rooms. edit
- Quest Apartments Hamilton, 42-47 Ward St, ☎ +64 7 839 1676, . Features 29 apartments (26 x 1 bedroom units and 3 studio units) in central Hamilton. Easy access to the main bars, casinos, shopping and Hamilton's information centre edit
- Matamata is about 45 minutes away - follow SH1, turning off towards Tauranga onto SH 29, and then turning off towards Matamata onto SH27. A community of about 12 000 people, its main claim to fame is that it was the filming site for the Lord of the Rings - in particular the Shire. Visitors are able to visit Hobbiton, though reservations need to made in advance.
- Raglan is a beach side town about 50km (31 mi) away. Simply follow SH23 out of Hamilton to get there. The town is well known for its excellent surf beaches, including Indicators, Whale Bay, and Manu Bay. There are several buses a day here, provided by Environment Waikato . Fares range from $5-10 one way, dependent on when in Hamilton you get on the bus!
- Rotorua is roughly an hour and a half. Follow SH1 and then turn onto SH5 at Tirau. Definitely worth a visit, though more than a day trip is probably required.
- Auckland is about 90 minutes drive north from Hamilton. Follow SH1 north until you hit all the traffic.
- Tauranga, one of New Zealand's beautiful beach cities, is about 90 minutes drive to the east. Travel south on SH1 through Cambridge. Take the first exit at the big Cambridge roundabout, following the signs towards Rotorua. About 20 minutes south of Cambridge, take the left turn onto SH29 towards Matamata, then follow SH29 all the way to Tauranga. Drive carefully while going up the Kaimai Ranges.